Budding topics: Covering the cannabis industry

With the recent legalization of marijuana in Canada and the growing impact of the cannabis industry, we sat down with AP’s cannabis beat team editor, Frank Baker, to find out how AP covers such a narrowly focused but widely newsworthy topic. 

Medical marijuana plants grow at LifeLine Labs in Cottage Grove, Minn. AP PHOTO/JIM MONE

AP announced the addition of a dedicated cannabis team in early 2018.

“Our members and customers have told us this is an area of immense interest to them, and AP’s geographic scope places us in a unique position to tell this story from multiple vantage points,” said AP’s deputy managing editor, Noreen Gillespie.

We went behind the scenes with Baker to find out how the cannabis beat team covers an ever-changing industry to produce unique multiformat content with local relevance and national impact. 

Q: What’s the goal of the cannabis beat team?

A: To have comprehensive coverage of the evolving cannabis industry in the United States, Canada and beyond.

Q: What type of themes does team cover?

A: It really runs the gamut, and that’s what is so interesting about this topic — it touches on so many different things. Everyone is affected in some way, and everybody has an opinion on it.  

I look back at what we’ve done in a year, and there’s a lot of good material out there, from enterprise to a steady stream of spot news on governmental and political issues to law enforcement to the impact on financial markets. From a customer standpoint, volume and diversity are important, and I’m pleased and proud there are marijuana stories pretty much every day somewhere in the country — and beyond.

Q: Why did AP decide to dedicate a team to this topic, and what makes it newsworthy?

A: It has become an issue in essentially every state, and there’s a growing sentiment and pressure on the federal government to change its tone when it comes to marijuana and not keep it outlawed like other drugs, such as heroin. We are well-positioned to cover the impact state-by-state and in Washington, D.C. 

What’s driven some of the changes in society’s look at marijuana is the wider acceptance of medical marijuana. There are two groups that are very sympathetic figures and have gotten behind this — people with cancer and their doctors, and veterans with PTSD. They say they get relief from marijuana, and many people who otherwise might not be supportive of marijuana change their tune when these people say they get relief from it. 

Q: What makes our approach unique?

A: We have on-the-ground reporting wherever marijuana becomes an issue. That’s something that nobody else can say.

We have a lot of good brainpower on the team. It originated out of the West because that region had the most states with legalized marijuana, so we already had people with a good knowledge base covering it and were able to add on in other areas.

For example, marijuana stocks are blowing up right now, so one of our business reporters has joined the team to focus on the industry and the markets. We also have a former law enforcement reporter from L.A. who is on the team and now covers the Justice Department in Washington, D.C. That’s critical because DOJ is the place where the federal prohibition is enforced, and there’s mounting pressure to reconsider that policy. 

Q: How does the team keep up with such an ever-evolving industry?

A: I think the way we keep up is by communicating with each other and monitoring the industry itself. We have people on the team in different states, so they are seeing things at the local level that we can share on group calls, Slack channels, etc.

We follow developments sometimes at a very granular level, and when we can string them together to see a pattern — the same thing popping up five times in five different places — that sets off a lightbulb for the team to look into it. 

Click here to find out how cannabis website Leafly uses the multiformat content produced by AP’s cannabis beat team to solidify its news brand and credibility.

reporting, cannabis